Most of us who practice yoga will, at some point, find ourselves facing internally motivated choices that can radically alter our lives. That’s when we need to learn how to bring our practice off the mat so it can help us birth the emerging self that change promises to bring forth—and support us as we work through the fear and confusion that change can bring.
Yoga—in its widest sense—can give us the strength and insight we need to navigate the most radical forms of change. Equally as important as the practices of yoga are some of yoga’s basic (and highly applicable) teachings—the recognition that we affect the exterior by working on the interior.
1. Know That Change is Inevitable
The Buddhist Doctrine of Impermanence, annica, tells us that change is inevitable, continuous, and unavoidable. Everything changes. Just realizing that fact can protect you from turning to that most disempowering of reactions to change: “Why me?
2. View the Change as an Initiation
In traditional societies, every phase of life was regarded as an initiation into a new way of being and was marked with a ceremony that often asked the initiates to step into the unknown in some way, whether it was observing a prayer vigil, spending the night in darkness, or answering questions that tested their skills. The change itself, if you go through it consciously, is the doorway into the next stage of growth—one that propels you into a deeper relationship with yourself and the world.
3. Meditate Through Uncertainty
The deep uncertainty that arises during processes of change is perhaps the most daunting part of the experience. Why? Because a true change process will involve surprises, reversals, false starts, and periods of coming to a dead halt. In these moments, you’re likely to experience fear, anxiety, anger, irritability, sadness, grief, and the physical and psychological contraction that often goes along with feeling uncertain and unclear. It’s much easier to stay steady through a life-change process when you have a meditation practice, because meditation teaches you how to keep going back into your center, the core awareness that is your contact point with the Self and that aligns your individual consciousness with the heart of the universe.
4. Uncover Your Truest Desire
Self-inquiry, or atma vichara, is the core yogic process for navigating change. It’s a simple but effective process of asking yourself core questions such as, “What is my true desire in this situation?” or “What outcome would be the best for everyone?” As answers surface, write them down.
5. Set a Strong Intention
The next step is to make a sankalpa—a clearly articulated, affirmative statement about what you intend to do. When you make a true sankalpa, you call on the power of your personal will and align your personal will with the cosmic will. If you have gone through the self-inquiry process and have a sense of what your true desire is, you should be able to make a sankalpa that is in line with your truest wish. The deeper the alignment between your core desire and your intention, the more likely you are to successfully initiate a life change that supports that alignment.
6. Take Action, One Step at a Time
The very heart of the practice of yoga is abhyasa—steady effort in the direction you want to go. So when you are initiating a life change, consider the steps you need to take to make it happen, again using the technique of self-inquiry. Once you’ve thought things through, it’s crucial to take action. Effective abhyasa, in the yoga of life change, is to take things one step at a time so you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
7. Practice Letting Go
One of the positive byproducts of making a life change, from a yogic perspective, is the opportunity that it gives you to practice vairagya, which is usually translated as “detachment,” or letting go. That means letting go of the past; letting go of the way that things used to be; letting go of your fear, your grief, your old relationship, your old job. But you don’t want to let go in a “hard” way, forcing yourself to be a samurai of change. Instead, let yourself grieve the losses or feel the anxiety. Then breathe out and imagine that whatever you’re holding on to is flowing out with the breath
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